When you go to the gym, it’s normal to focus on your workout and only your workout. Count your reps, do what you planned to do, get out, and get home. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy, but one small change can get you better results and better protection from injury: focusing on body awareness.
In a basic sense, body awareness refers to knowing where parts of your body are in relation to your environment. Body awareness involves paying attention to how different parts of your body feel at different times and using that information to accurately assess your physical abilities and your overall health.
You can begin to build and improve body awareness during regular daily tasks, before you even show up at the gym. Try these mindfulness exercises to start:
- Before you get out of bed in the morning, lie still for a minute or two and notice how you feel. Are you well rested, or are you tired and lagging? Are any of your muscles sore? How does your head feel? How about your stomach? Quickly check in with each part of your body.
- Midway through your work or school day, pause again to take stock. Do any of your muscles feel stressed? Are you tightening or tensing certain parts of your body?
- Designate three or four times during your day when you can take a short break to check in with yourself and breathe. Close your eyes, get away from distractions, and take deep inhales and exhales. As you breathe, focus on relaxing your muscles and becoming aware of how each part of your body feels.
- Before you go to sleep, evaluate again in the same way you did in the morning. Take inventory of how your body has changed throughout your day.
Taking Awareness into Training
When you’re working out, notice your form during exercises. Working out with a group exercise instructor in a class or one-on-one setting is one of the best ways to improve overall body awareness. Trainers know how to spot common errors in form and can show you how a particular exercise is supposed to look and feel.
How can such awareness reduce injury and boost your training? When you’re familiar with proper form, you can feel when you’re not doing an exercise correctly. Pushing too hard, moving too quickly, or knocking yourself out of proper alignment are all fast tracks to injury. But when you know what exercises are supposed to feel like, you’re more likely to do them correctly and avoid those injuries. Rather than continuing and risking injury, you can stop and move on or fix your form and alignment before you continue.
An added bonus: Using the best form possible ensures your muscles are firing properly on every exercise, which can boost your overall strength, reaction time, balance, and coordination.
Furthering the Connection
The more you practice body awareness, the better your mind-body connection will be. Advanced body awareness can even give you information about when to push harder, when to take a break, and when to back off entirely. Knowing how to react when parts of your body experience pain or discomfort can help keep you relaxed and reduce your overall stress levels.
Improving body awareness also means you’ll develop a better sense of when you feel “off,” for whatever the reason might be. If you do experience physical pain during exercise or you suspect you may be dealing with any type of underlying medical condition, always check in with a doctor or orthopedic specialist and share your concerns.